A Virtual Walk Through Jacksonville History

Stop 44: Jeremiah Nunan House

Since our virtual Walk through History tour is temporarily drawing to a close as Historic Jacksonville, Inc. resumes its actual walking tours this summer, we’re ending with what has been described as “the most pretentious house still standing in Jacksonville,” the Jeremiah Nunan house.  Located at 635 North Oregon Street, “its unabashed exuberance” symbolizes the town’s “history of lusty gold mining and productive agricultural trade.” 

Jeremiah Nunan House.  Photo courtesy of Carolyn Kingsnorth.

Jeremiah Nunan
Photo Source: SOHS #440.

It is equally representative of Jeremiah Nunan, whose enterprising business pursuits continued to influence growth and development in the valley long past Jacksonville’s heyday.

Jeremiah Nunan was born in Ireland in either 1843 or 1844 and arrived in Jacksonville in the mid-1860s where he opened a saddlery business in competition with Henry Judge.  After the two became friends, Nunan and Judge also became partners selling and repairing harnesses, halters, horse collars, saddles, and “black snake whips.”  Judge was married to a young lady named Anna O’Grady whose family had emigrated from Ireland and settled in Oakland, California.  Through this friendship, Jeremiah met Anna’s younger sister, Delia O’Grady.

Delia O’Grady Nunan
Photo Source: SOHS #809.

Many myths surround the Nunans and the Nunan house so let’s start laying them to rest.  Despite the many stories, Delia was obviously NOT a mail order bride. 

Jeremiah and Delia were married by Father Blanchett on June 3, 1872, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Jacksonville.  By 1875 they had settled into a house at the corner of C and North Oregon streets (see Sifers-Savage House, Stop #37) where over the years they raised five children, three girls and two boys.

Judge moved his family back to Oakland, California, in 1875, and Nunan carried on the saddlery business alone.  When Judge returned to Jacksonville in 1878, Nunan sold the business back to Judge and went into general merchandising, becoming a very successful and well respected businessman.  His store was known for its “superior assortment of general merchandise.”

At the same time Nunan was “resident agent for the wealthiest and most reliable fire insurance companies on the coast.” He also acquired considerable property in Jackson County including farmland and mining claims.  He served as a city trustee, town recorder and a police judge.  The Jacksonville Post noted that Nunan was “known to almost everyone in Jackson County and highly esteemed by all.” 

In 1892, Jeremiah Nunan built what we know as the Nunan House as a Christmas present for his wife, Delia.  The two and one-half story structure itself is a superb example of the Queen Anne style with its variety of forms, textures, materials, and colors.  

The Nunan House, 1893.  Photo Source: SOHS #814

Plans for the house were purchased from Tennessee architect George F. Barber’s 1891 Victorian Cottage Architecture catalog.  When a second edition of the catalog was published in 1892, it advertised the Nunan house as having been “erected from our plans… [in] Jacksonville, Oregon.” Although the actual cost of construction is unknown, the advertisement placed the cost of executing this plan at between $6,000 and $7,500.

So let’s lay another myth to rest right now.  The Nunan House is referred to as “the catalog house” because the plans were purchased from Barber’s catalog of styles—NOT because it was a Sears, Roebuck “catalog house.”  Yes, Sears, Roebuck and Co. did sell mail order kit houses, but not until 1908.

Nunan House Main Staircase
Photo Source: Jack Boucher, Historic American Buildings Survey, August 1971.

The house consists of 16 rooms, including five bedrooms and a sewing room for Delia.  All of the construction work on the house was done locally.  Contractor H.F. Wood oversaw the project.  Henry Klippel provided much of the wood from his local sawmill.  Fancier woods that were not available locally were brought in by train, not the entire house as another myth would have it.  Five different types of wood can be seen just in the main staircase.  Five intricately carved mantles were done by J. Weeks and Sons of Medford, and beautiful stained glass windows remain a focal point throughout the house.

The house originally sat on 11 acres but now occupies three.  The house was wired for electricity in 1909 and that same year a pull chain toilet was installed upstairs.  Subsequent owners added the Carriage House in 1982 and the garage, pool, and workshop in 1996.

Nunan retired from the merchandise business in 1911, turning it over to his son Charles.  A year later, Nunan and Delia sold their beautiful home and moved to Oakland, California. 

Delia lived out her years there, dying in 1941 at the age of 93.  In 1916, while visiting Charles in Jacksonville, Nunan committed suicide.  His death was attributed to “temporary insanity caused by ill health,” allowing Nunan to rest in peace in hallowed ground in the Catholic section of the Jacksonville pioneer cemetery.

“The 7th Guest” CD-ROM.
Photo Source: en.wikipedia.org.

The house itself has changed hands numerous times since the Nunans occupied it, but to millions of video gamers worldwide, Jacksonville’s 1892 Nunan House will always be home to mad toymaker Henry Stauf and the setting for “The 7th Guest.” Produced by Trilobyte and released by Virgin Games in 1993, “The 7th Guest” was the first computer video game to be issued only on CD-Rom.  The game has sold millions of copies, and gamers still make pilgrimages to Jacksonville just to see “Stauf’s Mansion.”

You can learn more about the house and family by visiting “Pioneer Profiles: Jeremiah Nunan – An Irish Success Story.”

 


Sources Cited:

Evans, Gail E.H.  State of Oregon Inventory of Historic Properties, “The Nunan House,” February 1980.

James, Jessica C. “The Nunan Curse: A Prevailing Saga,” Southern Oregon Heritage Today, Autumn 2003.

“Nunan House.” Historic America Buildings Survey, HABS ORE,15-JACVI,58-, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/

Ross, Marion D.  “Jacksonville, An Oregon Gold-Rush Town,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians,XII. 4:24

“The 7thGuest,” http://en.wikipedia.org.

 


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